Wicked 

 Title: Wicked

Author: Jilly Cooper

Published: 2006

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (re read)

Synopsis

Janna Curtis is the recently appointed headteacher of Larkminister Comp, a failing school where roughly 6% of students achieve The Magic Five (5 A*-C grades in GCSE).  Janna is young  and determined to make a success of the school and inspire the students to achieve their goals, even though the vast majority of them have little support from home and are living in poverty, so school is hardly top of their list of priorities.  Unfortunately the Local Authority are keen to see Janna and Larks fail and throw many obstacles in her way.  But Janna has a saviour in the form of Hengist Brett-Taylor, the head of the local private school, Bagley Hall.  Hengist is charismatic and willing to help Janna and offer her students opportunities they could only have imagined.  Wicked explores the lives of those in the two schools and those connected to the schools, whether as parents, Govenors or council members, with Cooper’s usual charming and witty flair. 
My Thoughts

It’s no secret to those who often read my blog that I love Jilly Cooper and I mean LOVE! Ever since I was a teenager I have devoured her novels time and time again so I know that whenever I read one I will be swept up in the lives of the glamorous and just have the chance to escape from reality.  Wicked is one of the few Jilly Cooper novels that have been published since I discovered her writing so I can remember pre ordering the hardback copy of the book and just adoring it.  It’s the familiarity of the whole world she writes about; I know I will love it so it is the perfect read for me.  I like Wicked because it moves away from the world of horses to the world of schools, something I know a little bit about.  I completely relate to the hardships and stress that the teachers in the state section experience throughout the novel and some of the funny anecdotes about school life, although I think there is a little bit too much under age sex in the novel to make it 100% believable, but then I try not to listen to anything of that kind of school gossip so maybe I’m being naive.  

Although Wicked introduces many, many new characters there are some old favourites, such as Rupert Campbell-Black, his family and Dame Hermione and her tearaway son, Cosmo.  Rupert is goaded into taking GCSE English and as an English teacher I liked seeing what books he was studying and as always, any novel that mentions other books makes me keen to read more.  I always like this aspect of Cooper’s writing as she makes many asides to literature throughout all of her books.  I’m looking forward to rereading Jump next as I have only read this once, when it was first released.  I am also eagerly awaiting her next novel.

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Bella by Jilly Cooper

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I always wait a day or two between reading books as I tend to become wrapped up in the world of my previous read, so it was a mixture of this and a need to read something light hearted that led me to Jilly Cooper. Every time I write about one of her books I mention how much I love her and this is obviously still the case. Whilst I have been slowly working my way back through her Rutshire Chronicles, this time I decided I wanted something shorter- mainly so I can start my Classics Club Spin, Oliver Twist before Christmas. With this in mind I picked up Bella. When I was 18/19 I bought all of the Jilly Cooper books with eponymous titles and stormed through them, meaning I haven’t read one in eight years. I’m not sure why I picked Bella, I think it was just the first one that I picked from the bookcase.

Bella is the story of Bella Parkinson, a young British actress who is taking the theatre world by storm. When the wealthy and handsome Rupert Henriques falls in love with her, she is soon swept into his world; unfortunately the rest of his family cannot stand her, especially his cousin, Lazlo. Lazlo soon realises that Bella is hopelessly in love with her ex, Steve and is determined to make her break her engagement with Rupert. Both Bella’s and Lazlo’s pasts come back to haunt them and put the former in serious danger.

I had forgotten what happened in Bella, but regardless of this I knew I was going to enjoy it as Jilly Cooper books never fail to put a smile on my face. I have been meaning to return to this series of books for ages, but despite taking one or two on holiday as back up reads I never quite got round to them. The last 150 pages had me hooked and, after a long and tiring week at work, it was lovely to come up and have a long soak in the bath with my book. Yes, I’m aware this is hardly literary greatness, but sometimes a comforting, familiar read is just what you need on a cold winter’s evening. Having said that I always find some relevant quote when I read a Cooper book and this might be one of my favourites:

‘But darling, one loves the most ghastly people when one’s eighteen. You wouldn’t be able to see what you saw in him if you met him now’

How true!

And now I have done my lighthearted read, it is on to Oliver Twist, a re-read and a novel I think I last read around Christmas time.

Challenges

Reading the Twentieth Century

The Perfect Romantic Hero

And I am back to singing my love for Jilly Cooper from the rooftops, well it is the holidays after all, and I promised myself one big Cooper novel every major school holiday. Of course this is a reread!

Appassionata follows the career of passionate violinist Abigail Rosen. After a dramatic suicide attempt puts a stop to her classical soloist career, Abby takes to the conductor’s rostrum, and meets the flamboyant and troublesome Rutminister Symphony Orchestra, and so another great Jilly Cooper story of loves, losses, highjinks, sexual encounters, dashing heroes and beautiful heroines begins. I love Cooper’s style of writing; it is so engaging and full of witty word play and references to poetry and classical music, that despite having read all her novels I know I will always discover something new and thoroughly enjoy the time I spent engrossed in her work. One particular description struck a chord (and having cleverly packed my copy of Appassionata this morning, I am going to have to adlib slightly. Cooper, when describing the orchestra cat, John Drummond, writes something along the lines of ‘John Drummond, having exhausted the catnip matador, had to resort to watching cat television, however with only a pigeon to gaze at, this didn’t last long. There was always so much more to see in the summer when the swallows were swooping make and forth.’ As I said this is not an accurate quote, but the description of a window as ‘cat television’ did make me smile.

Being as obsessed as I am, I always tend to read any article I come across by Jilly Cooper, and I read a particular interesting one recently that I feel is relevant to the ongoing rise of erotic fiction and the sheer craziness that has been triggered by E.L.James’ Fifty Shades trilogy. Unless you have been living under a rock, you cannot fail to have noticed that James’ books are EVERYWHERE! People who never read have become gripped in the lives of Ana Steele and Christian Grey, and I can say this in confidence seeing as my facebook feed went fifty shades of crazy about the books and my sister, who has bought a grand total of 5 books in her entire life, also began reading Fifty Shades of Grey (she quickly gave up, which says a lot in my opinion). I did devour all three books in quite quick succession earlier in the summer, and I will confess I fell a little bit in love with Christian Grey. But then I snapped out of that and got incredibly irritated by the poor, repetative writing, the dire and unbelievable heroine and the predictable plot; to be perfectly honest I think I could have written them myself, in fact most of the people who have read them would probably have done a better job.

The majority of facebook statuses I read about Fifty Shades raved about Christian Grey, and as I have admitted, I had a bit of ‘literary’ (I use that term in the loosest possible sense) crush on him. And then I read Cooper’s article. In it she pronounces that she does not understand why anyone would fancy Christian Grey; Jilly says that in her opinion, Fifty Shades protagonist Christian, a mercurial billionaire with a penchant for punishing his girlfriends, is a ‘terrible, terribly silly man, with his “long index fingers”. ‘To me he’s a joke,’ she says. ‘But then again, I’m old.’. Jilly Cooper also makes the valid point that it takes a lot of research to write one of her ‘bonkbusters’, as they are called, and you don’t have to enjoy them or think of them as literature to realise this is true. Having just finished Appassionata, it is clear that Cooper extensively researched life in an orchestra, from the day-to-day running of it to the taking part in competetions and being awarded grants from the Arts Council. I think it is fair to say that very little research went in to the Fifty Shades trilogy, well unless scouring sex shops for the latest craze counts as research.

In hindsight, I completely agree with Cooper. Christian Grey isn’t a romantic hero. He is a handsome man with an incredibly large bank balance, who is used to getting what he wants in and out of the bedroom and therefore tries to control everyone he meets. He seems to have very little personality, social life or interests, and he certainly isn’t renowned for witty conversation. When I compare him to one of the male heroes in Appassionata, it is clear that there is no comparison. Viking plays First Horn in the RSO and is passionate, caring, handsome, funny, yes he is an arrogant arse in places, but at least he has a sense of humour, something Grey appears to be lacking, and he is a well thought out, developed character. For me Cooper creates romantic heroes you can actually fall in love with, men you would want to know in real life, and not just some 2D masochistic ‘hero’ who you think you want to know, but in reality would have you running for the hills. And as a mini postscript and personal reading choice, as a woman, I would much rather read about a fiesty, intelligent, witty heroine, than a sappy, predictable one.

Give me a Cooper hero anyday!

So having once again prattled on about my bias love of Jilly Cooper, I was wondering if there are any romantic literary figures, male or female, that you couldn’t live without?

The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous

Jilly Cooper books are my guilty pleasure! Everyone has one, and they come in all shapes and sizes, mine just happens to be in the form of these incredibly enjoyable and amusing books.  I know they aren’t literary classics, but I LOVE them, and as far as I’m concerned any book that makes me laugh and cry as much as all of Jilly Cooper’s has got to be a winner.  And ‘The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous’ is without a doubt my favourite, so it was just the thing to help me relax after a stressful/emotional six weeks on placement.

This was the first Jilly Cooper book I ever read.  I discovered it sitting on the bookcase in my Grandparents’ spare room when I was about 15/16, surprising really as I can’t remember either of my Grandparents ever reading a book, so who knows how it got there.  It is hard to tell what first drew me to the book, sadly their copy did not have the alluring cover displayed in the photo, but perhaps my teenage self just knew it would be a gripping read.

The book centres on Lysander Hawkley and his ‘career’ as a man who makes husbands jealous, sounds dubious I know, but I think Cooper is just amazing at depicting a world of glamorous romantic heroes and fabulously bitchy women, with old favourites (such as the devastatingly attractive Rupert Campbell-Black) making a return.  And she paints a beautiful image of the English countryside, when I was in my late teens I would have given anything to move to the Cotswolds…oh the power of reading!

The book probably should come with a parental guidance sticker, but it is not solely about sex; there are moments in nearly all of Cooper’s books where I have to wipe away the tears, from laughing as well as crying.  You could argue, and I am sure many people do, that her books are just about posh people, horses and sex, but I think there is so much more to them, not only have I learnt bits and pieces about polo, opera, classical music and poetry through my avid reading of anything Jilly Cooper has ever written, but I have also extended my vocabulary, yes I am not afraid to admit that before Cooper I had no idea what ‘fatuous’, ‘philistine’ and about a million other words meant, so I like to think I have been educated along the way.  I don’t care if I am the only one who believes it, or if my family laugh at me about my obsession for the rest of my life, I think the books are amazing and I don’t think my love for them will ever change.

As this is increasingly becoming a rant about my love for Jilly Cooper in general I think I will leave it there.  Don’t worry though, I am off to tackle Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa now on the advice of Jillian, and as part of the Clarissa in April groupread, so I do read some serious literature as well.